Decision Time for the Devils; Who Makes the Cut?

By Steve Palumbo

The New Jersey Devils completed the six game preseason schedule on a high note, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in the final tune-up before the start of the regular season. The Devils finished 3-3 in the preseason but the results are of little consequence; What’s important is how the team is playing as a unit and which players have played well enough to fill a permanent spot on the team. Now less than a week until the season starts head coach Pete DeBoer and general manager Lou Lamoriello need to decided who should stay and who should go.

Most of the attention has been on young Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson. Larsson, the fourth-overall pick at this year’s Draft, looked right at home on the Devils’ blueline. He played in 4 of the teams 6 games, leading all skaters in ice time averaging over 24 minutes a game. Larsson is as cool as a cucumber on the ice and makes good decisions with the puck. It’s obvious the kid is mature beyond his years. He is attempting to become the first 18-year-old to make the Devils since Petr Sykora in 1995-96. I think it’s a no brainer and he’s a shoe-in to be on the opening night roster.

“I’ve done my best,” Larsson said after the Devils defeated the Flyers. “I think I wasn’t that good today, but overall I’m proud of what I’ve done and, hopefully, the coaches like it.”

Ironically, 16 years after becoming the last 18-year-old to crack the Devils line-up, Sykora is again battling for a spot on the team. New Jersey drafted him 18th overall in 1995 and he was key member of the Devils’ 2000 Stanley Cup championship. Sykora is attending training camp as a free agent tryout and appears to have done enough to earn another chance in the NHL.

The 34-year-old has been impressive from the get-go, collecting a hat-trick in the team first intrasquad scrimmage. His break-away game winning goal in the preseason finale put an exclamation point on a wonderful training camp. Sykora finished tied with David Clarkson for the team lead in goals with 2.

His appreciation for the opportunity presented to him that has gained the most attention. Throughout the entire process he has said the right things and played his game. Sykora came in with no expectations, only a desire to prove he can still play at the NHL level and by all accounts he’s proven himself and then some.

“I don’t know what else he could do in camp if you’re going to script a camp for a guy who’s walking on,” DeBoer told The Record’s Tom Gulliti. “However it shakes out, I don’t think he can have any regrets about how he played and what he did to earn a spot.

Larsson and Sykora aren’t the only players looking to earn a full time NHL job.

Adam Henrique appears to have seized the moment after the injury to center Travis Zajac. With Zajac on the mends after surgery on his Achilles, Henrique looks as though he’s done enough to remain with the big club in New Jersey.

Last season Henrique had a fantastic year in Albany (AHL). The gifted two way center turned in a solid 2010-11 season with New Jersey’s top minor league. His 25 goals and 50 points in 73 games definitely showed what kind of offensive potential he has. Now the Devils hope that kind of potential will translate at the NHL level.

It’s conceivable the two other camp try-outs, D Anton Stralman and F Steve Bernier will be left without a contract when all is said and done. The recent strong play of another Swedish defenseman, Alex Urbom may have punched Stralman’s ticket home. If you would have asked me a few days ago I may have said Stralman had a really good chance to get a deal but Urbom played so well in the final two games that coach DeBoer may have to consider keeping him around.

Coming into camp the focus was finding the right parts to build a team that could return to the playoffs. DeBoer and Lamoriello have a lot to consider when finalizing the 2011-12 roster. Last year was an embarrassment and it’s imperative the Devils get out of the gate fast. I expect a few surprises but nothing too earth shattering. The roster should be completed by mid week then it’s game on!

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